Posted on 14th Nov 2012 by ian under Travel Tales | No Comments »

It can sometimes be a gamble to put a whole day aside with no plans when time on an itinerary is tight. Sometimes it pays off big time. I mentioned earlier that it was hoped that some surprises would come to us in Yorkshire and indeed they did, in a little package called Heptonstall.

In a nutshell, it is a village that is like Haworth, without the Brontë sisters and without the tourists but with more character and history to absorb just by wandering and observing. Hard to know where to start as we have over 50 photos of today’s rewarding sojourn… and it was more about experience than photography.

A few lovely hours rolled away with interaction with only three people, all locals… a lady exercising her dog, off the lead, in the churchyard… another lady who was married to a fellow on the church parish council. She was whipper-snipping around the more recent graves… and the young lady who looked after us in the tea rooms…

Yes, we were the only visitors in this beguiling snapshot of another time and place.  It was hard to imagine who lived there and why, apart from it being just so simple and charming.  The owner of the tea rooms had a sign up saying he would be closing for annual holidays for a couple of weeks, and you know where he was going?  Nowhere…

A cobblestoned street wends uphill through the village where, apart from the occasional glimpse of a car parked away from the main street, nothing seems to have changed in a couple of centuries. Or more – the dates inscribed above the door to the Cloth Hall are 1545 to 1553.

There is an ancient, communal town pump halfway up the main street. Thoughts of hygiene and bygone cholera flash past. There are two pubs – the White Lion and the Cross Inn, a wee post office and the Town Gate Tea Rooms, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. And a house so low in the street that you can use the roof gutter as a handrail… But first…

We strolled up Church Lane to the churchyard where the remains of up to 100,000 people lie, many of them between the two churches – the one in ruins is the Church of St Thomas à Becket – it was built shortly after the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in his cathedral in 1170.

The church was destroyed in a gale in 1847, and the ‘new’ St Thomas the Apostle church was built.

And there is a third church in Heptonstall – the world’s oldest Methodist church in continual use, with a foundation stone laid by none other than John Wesley himself in 1764.

The atmosphere in the grave yard is incredible.

Most of the headstones lie flat and while it seems a bit sacrilegious to be walking across the interred, there is no choice. They lie flat by design, as they do in the Haworth cemetery.

In Haworth, the lack of air to the soil meant the bodies decomposed slowly and contaminated the water supplies, like the Brontë family well.

An image of that old pump in the main street flashes past… so much death through disease caused by simple lack of hygiene and sanitation we take for granted.  So much grief and misery if you were the few left to grow old…

Surnames on the headstones reappear – Sutcliffe, Greenwood, Uttley and Hartley. If you say the last two with a Yorkshire accent, they sound one and the same.

One Hartley at rest, David, had the nickname “King” and was a famous ‘coiner’ or counterfeiter. He was hanged in York in 1770 for “unlawfully stamping and clipping a public coin” and his head impaled in Halifax before he ended up in Heptonstall.

Nearby is a headstone memorial to a nagging wife thanking the Good Lord for finally giving the husband some peace.

There is another grave here that attracts attention – sometimes by fans on a pilgrimage of poetry, sometimes by angry followers wanting to remove the second surname from her headstone.

The grave belongs to American poet, Sylvia Plath Hughes who took her life aged 30, in 1963, by sticking her head in an oven. Her husband was English poet, Ted Hughes, and the followers believe that he was the reason Sylvia Plath committed suicide.

On, and around, her grave are tributes from fans… tarot cards, letters, paper clips, flowers and a wreath made from pens.

On the way to Heptonstall we dropped into the village of Mytholmroyd to see the house with the address, No 1 Aspinall Street – the house where Ted Hughes was born (right).  We didn’t realise we would come across him again, in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey…

From the churchyard, we slowly made our way to the tea room for an eclectic lunch – tea, hot chocolate with marshmallows, home-made Thai fish cakes, a chip butty and a brownie with cream and ice cream. Rain started to drizzle onto the cobblestones outside and, through the large window, it felt appropriate. Then Laura recited some of Sylvia Plath (from The Arrival of the Bee Box) and that felt so much more than appropriate…

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The ‘bee box’ was a present from Hughes, a physical gift, and a cerebral and emotional one…

Never heard of Heptonstall before…

Will never forget it…

Even though… the box is only temporary.